Reporter Annie Mehl shows the first morel mushroom her group found earlier this month. (Photos by Jared Strong and Jacob Fiscus)
Reporter Annie Mehl shows the first morel mushroom her group found earlier this month. (Photos by Jared Strong and Jacob Fiscus)

May 22, 2019

It was a gray and windy morning as I donned my yellow raincoat and cap.

I wanted to be ready for whatever the weather might have in store but also wanted to stand out among the green hills that could easily envelope me.

Just the day prior to my secret, secluded hunting trip, my coworker Jared Strong approached me and asked, “Do you want to go mushroom hunting?”

I had never heard of morel mushrooms and didn’t know much about mushroom hunting. So, unsure of what exactly it entailed, I immediately replied, “Of course.”

I have always loved pretty much all vegetables. Well, all except peas — they are tolerable at most, in my opinion. But mushrooms — particularly oyster, shiitake, porcini and, of course, the common portobello mushroom, have a special place in my heart.

When I first moved to Carroll, which will be two years ago this June, I took a solo trip to Des Moines one weekend to scope out the city and discovered an abundance of mushrooms at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market.

Since then, I also have found Carroll-area residents who grow oyster mushrooms and sell them to mushroom fanatics such as myself.

If this isn’t enough to convince you of my true love for mushrooms, then hopefully this article is.

So when Jared asked me to go morel mushroom hunting with him, all I could think was — wow, Iowa is actually starting to grow on me.

On a not-so-great day for mushroom hunting, Jared picked me up, and after I had snapped together every button of my yellow raincoat, we headed out of the city to meet our friend Dan Dreessen.

We drove through Lanesboro until we left Carroll County and veered into Greene County.

I quickly learned that if you are a morel mushroom hunter, there is one unspoken rule among all hunters: Never share your hunting spot.

So, that’s all the information about our hunting location I can share. That may already be too much…

After we arrived, we climbed over a few fallen, dead trees and began searching in spots where Dan said he previously had discovered mushroom spores.

As we started the hunt, Dan gave us a few pointers on where and how to look. He said that he had luck finding mushrooms near dead or dying elm trees, so our first mission was to seek out any tree that looked distressed.

After finding one morel mushroom, though, Dan told us to never pick it first — it’s the clue to finding the others.

“The first one I see is the last one I pick,” Dan said.

After discovering that mushroom, Dan laid his hat down beside it. It was very easy to miss it next to the thousands of brown leaves that were almost the same shade as the mushroom. His hat served as a marker to remember where the mushroom was so we would not step on it or lose it, while we spread out to scour the surrounding area for any of its mushroom brothers.

When you first see the next mushroom, it stands out. Its cap is very porous, almost like a honeycomb, but at the touch, it looks soft and rubbery.

Dan directed me to pluck it from the earth.

When picking a morel mushroom, you grab its stalk and make sure to break it off away from the roots. Dan said you want to leave the roots down in the soil so that more mushrooms can continue to grow. then be picked by people like us.

For the next two hours, we climbed through the trees and wound our way slowly up the hills. Our eyes barely left the ground as we continued to search.

Whenever a mushroom was sighted, it was Dan who always found it.

He had decades of experience mushroom hunting, so he was a great morel mushroom hunting teacher.

We always knew when Dan found something, because he would holler like it was gold he discovered rather than mushrooms. After a few hours, we had found about 20, and Jared and I were ready to get out of the damp woods.

But over the hills, we could still hear Dan shouting “mother lode” as he found mushroom after mushroom.

By the end of the day, we had filled one-and-a-half grocery bags of morel mushrooms. It was more than Dan said he has ever found, he said.

Dan gave us a lot of mushrooms, even though it was he who had found them all.

So I brought them home, and not really knowing how to cook them, I decided to just wing it. I sliced them in halves and then prepared a pan with melted butter. I decided I would cook some of the mushrooms in only butter and salt, and the others I would soak in egg and coat in flour.

I cooked all the mushrooms for a few minutes on the stove before removing them and putting them on a plate. They were almost ready to eat, but first, they needed hot sauce.

After biting in, I was surprised by how much the mushrooms absorbed the flavor of the butter and salt that I put on them. They were chewy and had a nutty flavor, but I made one giant, amateur mistake: I forgot to wash them.

So I munched on very gritty, earthy-tasting mushrooms.

Morel mushroom hunting was definitely an experience. It not only gave me an interesting, healthy new food to learn how to prepare, but it gave me a way to get out of the house or office and into the wild.

It was wonderful to find the mysterious, coveted mushroom, pull it from the earth and, after admiring it — and washing it — feast.